Less than two weeks after Nike Oregon Project head coach Alberto Salazar was handed a four-year ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association, the sportswear giant has announced that it would “wind down” the program.
In a memo sent to employees that leaked Thursday on social media, president, chairman and CEO Mark Parker wrote that elite training group — founded nearly two decades ago to promote American long-distance running — would dissolve.
“While the panel found there was no orchestrated doping, no finding that performance enhancing drugs have ever been used on Oregon Project athletes and went out of its way to note Alberto’s desire to follow all rules, unfortunately, Alberto can no longer coach while the appeal is pending,” Parker wrote in the undated memo.
He continued, “This situation, along with ongoing unsubstantiated assertions, is a distraction for many of the athletes and is compromising their ability to focus on their training and competition needs. I have therefore made the decision to wind down the Oregon Project. We will help all of our athletes in this transition as they choose the coaching set up that is right for them.”
In the note, the Swoosh reiterated its support of Salazar, who is currently appealing his suspension. (Parker further stated that the ban “for someone who acted in good faith” is “wrong.”) It comes a week after Parker reportedly sent a separate internal memo refuting that the brand and Salazar had done anything wrong.
On Oct. 1, the USADA made the decision to sideline Salazar after a six-year review, determining that the coach had trafficked testosterone and a banned substance as well as tampered or attempted to tamper with the doping control process and administered a prohibited IV infusion. (Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a Houston-based endocrinologist who worked alongside Salazar as a paid consultant, also received a four-year ban.)
Thursday’s memo was distributed just three days before Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, where two Nike Oregon Project members — Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay — are expected to compete. As of late September, about a dozen athletes remained part of the program.
“Nike has always tried to put the athlete and their needs at the front of all of our decisions,” Nike said in a statement to FN. “This situation, including uninformed innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions, has become an unfair burden for current Oregon Project athletes. That is exactly counter to the purpose of the team.”
The company added, “We have therefore made the decision to wind down the Oregon Project to allow the athletes to focus on their training and competition needs. We will help all of our athletes in this transition as they choose the coaching set up that is right for them. We will continue to support Alberto in his appeal.”
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